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Britain gets serious about distracted driving

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(Read caption) A women texting on a cell phone while driving on a Los Angeles freeway (Jul 21, 2009).

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The problem of texting and driving isn't limited to the U.S. – not by a long shot. Britain is taking steps to discourage the practice by boosting fines and potentially revoking licences.

Currently, British drivers face fines of £100 ($130) and three points on their licenses if they're caught using a mobile phone behind the wheel. As of next year, those penalties will double to £200 and six points. New drivers could be forced to re-take their exams.

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On the second offense, drivers could go court and be ordered to pay £1000 ($1,300).  Depending on the circumstances, the driver might also have her license suspended for up to six months.

Interestingly, the law won't affect another part of the UK, Northern Ireland, which will keep its penalties set at a £60 fine and three points.

Why now?

It's estimated that as many as one-third of all UK motorists regularly use their phones while driving, and that number is on the increase. 

While that figure might seem substantial, it pales in comparison to stats from the US. Surveys published earlier this year show that up to 70 percent of Americans talk on mobile phones while driving, and 42 percent are happy to read texts (though only 32 percent say that they've responded to texts or emails while driving). 

Among U.S. teens, the figures are even more alarming: even though 95 percent of teens know that using apps while driving is dangerous, 68 percent admit that they do so.

Is that because some states have far looser laws to prohibit texting and driving?* Not enough research has been done to say.

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Will the UK's new laws reduce mobile phone use by drivers even further? We'll let you know when the statistics come in.

* Arizona and Montana don't legislate the practice at all, and in Texas and Missouri, it's only applied in certain cases. In Florida, Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio, and South Dakota it's classed as a secondary offense, meaning that drivers can't be ticketed for doing it unless they're pulled over for a primary offense, like speeding or reckless driving.

This story originally appeared on The Car Connection.


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